Washington Monument to get $10M upgrades, reopen spring 2019

A person walks on the National Mall near the Washington Monument in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON - The Washington Monument’s elevator will undergo a major modernization effort and the attraction will get a new, permanent area for safety checks and visitor screenings as part of a nearly $10.8 million project.

 

The National Park Service said Tuesday that it awarded a contract for both projects to Grunley Construction Co. of Rockville, Maryland. Officials said the monument is expected to reopen in the spring of 2019.

The monument has been closed since August 2016 because of reliability issues with its elevator. Under the new contract, awarded Friday after a months-long process, about $3 million will be spent to repair and modernize the elevator.

The elevator work is being paid for by a donation from philanthropist and businessman David M. Rubenstein. Rubenstein gave $7.5 million to help fund repairs after a 2011 earthquake damaged the monument. He has also been a major contributor to other projects in the D.C. area, including helping to pay for renovations to the Lincoln Memorial.

The roughly $7 million remaining in the contract will be spent on a new glass-and-steel building for security and visitor screenings.

The 555-foot-tall marble-and-granite Washington Monument is considered a hallowed symbol of the country and Washington. It hosts about 600,000 visitors a year and is one of the tallest free-standing masonry structures in the world - often a must-visit for those coming to the capital.

Construction started in 1848 and was completed in 1884.

The monument was damaged in an Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake and had to be repaired. But its elevator, which takes visitors to an observation deck at the top, had troubles even before the earthquake.

The elevator breakdowns interrupted visits and at times forced visitors to use the monument’s more than 800 steps. The stairs are used only in emergencies and have been closed to visitors since the 1970s.

The monument had been shut down for short stints in 2016 when its elevator had troubles, but the Park Service closed it indefinitely later that year. At the time, spokesman Mike Litterst said having to close the monument was a “horrible inconvenience and frustrating for us and our visitors.”

The elevator was 15 years old and had nearly worn out its electrical and mechanical systems, according to Park Service officials. The life expectancy for elevators is between 15 and 20 years, depending on usage. At the monument, the elevator is run year-round for eight hours a day.

Officials said the new system will track the elevator’s direction, speed, leveling and delays. The elevator also will have a feature to allow remote access to the control system at the top of the monument from the ground level, according to the Park Service.

There will also be upgrades to equipment, electrical and wiring components, and the elevator’s machine-room area.

The new screening area will have “full ballistic and blast protection” features, according to park officials. It will be able to hold up to 20 visitors at a time for screening. The money for the screening center is being paid for from the Park Service’s fiscal 2017 funds.

The existing screening area at the monument, which has been in place since 2001, will be removed.

 

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